When the industry came to an agreement in a tough fight between multiple unions in the last union and the main studios of the Covid security protocol for production, some executives were wary of the precedent set by the new workplace limits.
As it turns out, they were right to be concerned. The Covid security protocols implemented in the fall of 2020 have become a good factor pushing for better working conditions that have taken 36 IATSE local 60,000 members and major studios to the brink of strike this month.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are scheduled to resume contract talks on Monday morning. The risk has been heightened after IATSE President Matthew Loeb warned on Friday that the union had run out of patience for the talks. The parties were described as having a long session on Saturday that included new proposals from the IATSE that would be resolved by the AMPTP this week. “Slow and steady” was a knowledgeable source close to the situation describing the duration of Saturday’s session. “Emotions are high,” said another.
Over the past year, the schedule and shooting protocols required for Covid security have fueled IATSE’s demands in multiple ways.
To align with the epidemic-era boundaries, producers in many cases focused on maximizing efficiency in scheduling time for actors. For camera crews, this means that in many cases producers prefer to pay modest fines built into the contract when crew members miss a certain meal break time. And since Covid protocols claim that no food can be brought around the shooting location, many camera teams have logged in long working days without eating at all. Anger over this situation and other unintended consequences of the security protocol sparked negotiations held in virtual form for most of last week.
The IATSE Local 600, the International Cinematographers Guild, has been a powerhouse of the larger union for more than 20 years. It represents the Director of Photography, Camera Operator and Assistant, Visual Effects Supervisor, still photographers and promoters across the United States and Puerto Rico. The National Access Local was created in 1996 by consolidating existing camera locales in New York, Chicago and 1 Western State.
Industry sources say the biggest voices in Loeb’s ears are local ‘s00 leaders, especially camera operators, who are pushing the negotiating team and enforcing working conditions. Local 600 has 9,677 members, making it the largest of 36 locals, according to the latest filing from the Department of Labor.
The desire of the crew to fly through the food break is not entirely a cowardly phenomenon. At the peak TV moment, many creative professionals work with behind-the-scenes shooting on strict schedules, the willingness to push to get it done at any cost is coming at a cost. Forced breaks by the epidemic give union members the opportunity to rediscover weekends and family dinners.
Many labor observers in Hollywood have been surprised by the escalation of tensions over the IATSE contract negotiations over the past few weeks যা which IATSE members see as another sign that the industry gives dignity to this category of workers.
The move to take a vote to approve the strike has caught people’s attention. Now, there is no alternative but to give meaningful discounts on AMPTP time and working conditions to show respect to Hollywood’s top line employees. Even the idea of going on strike is different considering the balance of membership in SAG-AFTRA, WGA and to a lesser extent DGA. A high volume of IATSE members is working at any time unlike other guilds. Today, most IATSE member lines have active pay-checks if any work is stopped.
According to multiple sources, the basic economic terms of the minimum basic agreement are not in dispute. The studios have made a significant proposal to expedite IATSE’s pension and health funding, and they have agreed to change the working hours to 10-hours as downtime.
But there are other issues on the table – weekend appointments, rest periods, new media discounts and, yes, meal breaks that are negligible penalty fees that are easy to pay and ignore.
Hollywood chief executives are very upset about changing business models these days, when the biggest employers are cultivating billions of dollars to invest in new streaming platforms. There is frustration at the studio level that the PR battle over the union deal was created in terms of man vs. studio profits at a time when traditional thematic giants new business is a La Disney Plus, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount Plus.
But industry veterans have seen this drama before. CEOs are talking about red ink, just a big red flag – remember the dynamics in the autumn of 2007 when executive hurdles pushed the WGA into a corner, leading to a 100-day strike. AMPTP President Carol Lombardini Loeb needs to find a way to give some clear victory so that angry voices at home can be protected from the rise of militancy. In this context, it is difficult to understand AMPTP’s decision not to counter IATSE’s September 12 contract proposal.
A month later, the IATSE received a strike-approval vote that was strong in the forecast, the X-Factor is the emotion and the union connection in the eyes of an experienced studio executive, to provoke the situation over the next 2 hours whether “someone does something stupid”.
The chief executives of the AMPTP-driven company are beginning to realize that the IATSE agreement and the 2023 cycle of agreements with the WGA, DGA and SAG-Eftra are going to be “very costly”. And all of this labor pain comes at a time when Hollywood’s top leaders have limited experience working with creative community labor unions.
What happens in the next few days in the IATSE negotiations will set the tone for the rest of the 2023 agreement negotiations. AMPTP negotiators would do well to acknowledge the underlying motivations of the union representing the necessary staff in Hollywood. This time, the demand that IATSE is emphasizing the most is respect.